Florida Man Book Waxes Poetically about the Sunshine State

(May 25, 2018) – In February 2016, a viral TIME’s headline came out of Florida; “Florida Man Arrested for Allegedly Throwing Live Alligator into Wendy’s Drive-Thru Window.” Fox News, the Washington Post, CNN and even the U.K.’s Telegraph reported similar headlines.

Tyler Gillespie. Photo by Elizabeth Lynch

Tyler Gillespie. Photo by Elizabeth Lynch

Award-winning journalist Tyler Gillespie – who has written for Rolling Stone, VICE, GQ and recently a reporting fellow at Salon – found such “Florida Man” stories riveting.

He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Orleans and is a recent master’s graduate in Journalism and Media Studies from USF St. Petersburg. Gillespie will be releasing his first book, “Florida Man: Poems” on June 1.

“I wanted to help people understand the state they live in and the complexities of it – make folks think about environmental issues, social issues, class issues,” he said.

The Florida man meme gained popularity in 2013 with the creation of the Twitter feed @_FloridaMan, touting “Real-life stories of the world’s worst superhero.” Some examples of these unbelievable but true headlines Gillespie refers to in his book are: “Florida Man Seen Jumping Off Bridge with Stolen Sausages,” “Florida Man Claims Dog Shot Girlfriend as She Slept,” “Florida Man Speeds Off in Stolen Car With 9 Baby Parrots.” Today, the Twitter feed has 386,000 followers.

“Florida Man: Poems” is non-fiction, a hybrid of poetry and journalism and comprised of sonnets, narrative and lyric poems. Utilizing his journalism background and lived experience, Gillespie covers everything from alligators, Southern heritage and recovery, to growing up gay and going to a Christian school.

Gillespie relies on Twitter and Reddit feeds for much of his content.

“Humans are complicated,” he said. “And as a journalist, I am not interested in ‘that moment.’ I am interested in what lead up to that moment and what happened after it.”

Florida Man: Poems Cover art by Michael Burk

Florida Man: Poems Cover art by Michael Burk

Beyond finding these stories interesting and complicated, Gillespie said he feels a special connection, a sense of compassion for the folks who make these outlandish headlines. As a fourth-generation Floridian, he has a theory that Floridians are only three or four degrees of separation away from knowing someone who becomes a Florida Man meme.

He witnessed a family member go through a similar event. And Gillespie has his own lived experience that he found relatable.

“I have done things that could have easily become a ‘Florida Man’ story,” Gillespie said. “Realizing this was really a moment for me. There was this level of humanity that I wanted to know more about.”

By relating to many of the subjects in his poems, he was able to find a common ground with them. It allowed his interviewees to open up, when they were often very skeptical and distrusting of any media. He noted that many of these people don’t get to tell their stories and a lot of them don’t even want to because they have been so heavily ridiculed in the media.

“The people in these memes often aren’t convicted, but they are by the court of public opinion. And this is what ruins lives,” Gillespie said.

He was also keen on learning why Florida has so many of these stories.

Through his research and reporting, Gillespie found that these types of headlines aren’t prevalent in other states. The number one reason why is because of Florida’s open public record laws; people’s records can be easily accessed online without having to go through channels to request them. Other reasons that perpetuate “Florida Man” headlines are; the infamous I-4 corridor, the state’s 15 sea ports, and the transient nature of a large segment of Florida’s population.

“It’s like a revolving door,” Gillespie said. “People come here for a while and then leave, or they retire here and aren’t really interested in changing legal or public policies. It really fascinates me why so many people come to Florida.”

His longest poem in the book is actually about a woman, “Florida Woman Repeatedly Slapped Grandma for Rejecting Facebook Friend Request.”

“I wanted to interview her because she had a redemption story,” said Gillespie. “This was the worst moment of this woman’s life and it went viral. Since then, she got sober and is succeeding in life.”

The book’s release in June is symbolic for Gillespie too. It is the same month he got sober seven years ago and it is also LGBTQ pride month.

“As a sober, gay man, this is really exciting for me. I wouldn’t have been able to write this book if I was still drinking,” Gillespie said. “Poetry is always reinventing itself and I would love to be part of this new wave, with journalism and the lyric. I hope people will dig it.”

Click here to pre-order Gillespie’s book, “Florida Man: Poems”

For more information about Tyler Gillespie, visit his website: TylerMTG.com

Article by Karlana June, USFSP Content Specialist